Speaking for the kids

Kayla Fulmer is an outreach specialist with CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates. She works for the Arizona Supreme Court in the dependent Children’s Service Division.

Children who suffer from abuse should not have to fight for a safe home all by themselves. That is where CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, comes in.

Established in 1985 in Maricopa County, CASA is part of a nationwide movement composed of community volunteers, who are trained to “fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect, and to learn and grow in the security of a loving family.”

The program was established in Pima County in 1987, and in March 1987, the Arizona Supreme Court officially recognized the program. The court implemented a formal process that provides for legal and administrative standing. It was 1991 when CASA received a specified funding source – the Arizona Lottery – and it now receives 30 percent of unclaimed lottery winnings.

It was not until 1994 that policies and procedures were established by order of the Arizona Chief Justice. It is an affiliate member of the national CASA organization. The CASA program now covers all 15 counties.

Kayla Fulmer, outreach specialist with CASA, told a service club recently about the CASA philosophy. She said it requires one adult to be involved in a child’s life to help the child become resilient.

“CASAs bring connection to a child to help cope with challenges of being in out-of-home care,” Fullmer said.

Many of the children are removed from their homes because of violence, drug abuse, mental illness, or a family tragedy. They come from all walks of life. Once removed, they are taken to foster homes, but it is only temporary, and for children in those situations, it can be a traumatic experience, and they feel lonely.

As the CASA brochure states, “These children need a voice. They need an advocate who will step in to look out for their best interests, monitor their progress, address their needs and provide critical information directly to the judge.”

Volunteer CASAs interview all parties to a case, and formulate a written recommendation to the court.

In its informational brochure, CASA quotes Chief Justice Rebecca Berch, who commented about the program: “CASA volunteers provide judges with vital information to ensure all children have a safe, nurturing and permanent home. Every child deserves this kind of compassionate involvement. We re fortunate to have committed individuals who give their time to his much needed effort.”

Fullmer said, “CASAs most often are the only constant person in a child’s life when in foster care.”

She said 90 percent of children in foster care need a CASA volunteer. But it takes more than just being willing to volunteer to help a child. CASAs must be U.S. citizens or legal residents. They must undergo background checks and pass a polygraph test. They must be willing to volunteer 15 to 20 hours a month, be 21 years of age or older, and attend 30 hours of pre-service training and 12 hours of in-service.

Fullmer, who administers all 15 Arizona county programs, provided the numbers on children who need CASAs. She said there are 14,000 children in foster care in Arizona.

  • 34.3 percent are between 1 and 5 years old
  • 45.7 percent have been there 12 to 24 months
  • African-American children represent 4.8 percent of the population, yet 14.2 percent are in out-of-home care
  • Caucasian children represent 41.6 percent of the population, and represent 38.5 percent of children in out-of-home care
  • Latino children are 43.4 percent of the population, and represent 36.9 percent of children in out-of-home care

The average CASA case lasts one and one-half years from start to finish. To learn more, visit www.CASAofArizona.org, or call 602-452-3683.